Surviving Twenty Something

Getting Started With: Magic Realism

BooksDanna Rowan
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Magic realism has long been one of my favourite genres, drawing me in even before I had heard the term 'magic realism'. Sometimes called 'magical realism', 'marvelous realism', or 'fabulism' (so says Wikipedia. I've never actually heard anyone say 'marvelous realism' ever), magic realism is the most delightful meeting of the normal and the fantastic, usually in a way that has you wondering what bits are mundane and ordinary and which aren't. 

Matthew Strecher defined magic realism as "what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe"— isn't that lovely? Makes me want to throw my workday out the window and spend the rest of it writing by a rainy window with the biggest cup of tea this side of the Atlantic. 

Magic realism is a genre with a rich Latin American history, with founding authors including Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márques, Isabel Allende, and Elena Garro. Here, I've left these authors out with the except of one, not at all because I'm dismissing their significance in the genre, but because if you go Do A Google and search for 'magic realism', you will find many fantastic reading lists comprised of these books. Instead, I wanted to offer up some of my favourite reads that have a touch of that magic realism flavour, while not necessarily being considered giants of the genre.


1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane


When a man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the lane, and he begins to remember— the South African miner who commits suicide in his family car and the terrible things that begin to happen after, the things that defy explanation and sense. And so the bookish seven-year-old boy must seek protection and answers from the three women at the farm at the end of the road— the women who say they've can remember the Big Bang, and the mysterious pond that the youngest calls an ocean. 

A deeply unsettling and magical read about the wonders and the horror of childhood that adults seem all too willing to forget.


2. The Shadow of the Wind


Endless libraries, mysterious books, ghost stories, and gothic post-war Barcelona. In The Shadow of the Wind, Daniel, the son of an antiquarian bookseller encounters a mysterious volume by an even more mysterious author, Julian Carax— of which it is the only known copy.

As he sets out to find out more about the author Carax and his works, he discovers something else: someone is systematically destroying all of the author's works, and now Daniel is in danger, caught up in a delightfully gothic tale of "murder, madness, and doomed love."


3. The Master and Margarita


It's 1930s Moscow and the Devil has arrived, bringing with him an assassin, a witch, and a vodka-swilling, talking cat. In a psychiatric hostpital, the unpublished author of a book about Jesus and Pontius Pilate struggles for his survival, while his enduring lover Margarita makes a pledge to sell her soul to save him. 

Bulgakov's masterful tale weaves together these two stories, from the murder of Judas in Jerusalem to the chaos that reigns in modern day Moscow. 


4. Chocolat


Vianne and her daughter Anouk arrive in Lansquenet on Shrove Tuesday and begin to set up a new kind of shop in the sleepy town— a chocolaterie, directly across from the church where the formidable Father Reynaud presides over his flock. A chocolaterie? During Lent?

Undaunted, Vianne continues to share her chocolates and not a little bit of folk magic with the pious, simple people of Lansquenet, until one day travelling strangers arrive on the shores of Lansquenet and set the whole community at odds with one another— Vianne and her chocolaterie at the heart of it all.

Will Vianne shake up the rigid morality of the community with the simple pleasures of chocolate, or be driven away once and for all by Reynaud?


5. Among Others


Morwenna Phelps lives in two worlds: at a boarding school in England, where she takes refuge in her love of science-fiction, and in Wales, where she dwelled peacefully with the spirits that shared her home. Until one day, her mother's practise of dabbling in magic turned dark, leaving Morwenna crippled, and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to live with a father she barely knows, Morwenna slowly settles into life at school— even finding like-minded friends— until the siren song of her own personal magic brings her mother back into her life.


6. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore


Mr. Penumbra's bookstore: a shop even more mysterious than its name with a collection of customers who never seem to buy anything, but only borrow books from the towering shelves of obscure tomes. And Mr. Penumbra? 

Clay Jannon cannot make sense of the reclusive man when he comes to be working in his shop. But during his many hours spent idly among the books, Clay, with the help of a new friend, begins to decode the mystery of Penumbra's book store— and when Penumbra himself goes missing, discovers the front conceals something much larger than any of them could have expected. 


7. The Blue Fox


Alright, this website is called Rebel Reader, so when I don't really have a good description for something— I'm just gonna come out and say it. 

This book is a bizarre, enigmatic, strange little fable-like story about a fox that leader a hunter on a quest across Iceland.

It's a slender, odd little novel written by an author from the land that gave us Björk. I think that says enough, no?


8. Bellman & Black


It was a simple foolish action, as many children make, when William Bellman killed the rook with a catapult. He hadn't really meant to do it, and of course he would never have expected the consequences to be so far-reaching.

Bellman has a nice life— a wife, beautiful, strong children, and the respect of his peers. But then those close to him start to die and soon death has taken his wife and children, leaving Bellman constricted with grief. It is at the funeral of his most beloved daughter that he finally approaches the man in black— the man who has been following him like an apparition— and together they make a business deal.

Bellman & Black is born.


9. The Snow Child


It is 1920 and a young couple live together on a homestead in the rough wilderness of Alaska. Their daily life is a struggle— Jack crushed beneath the burden of running their home, Mabel grappling with loneliness and their continuing inability to have children. 

On the day of the first snowfall, Jack and Mabel build a child out of snow— but the next morning, the snow-child is gone and they see a young girl running through the trees.

Jack and Mabel make room for Faina in their life— the mysterious child who hunts with a red fox, and seems unaffected by the relentless cold of Alaska. But everything is not what it seems, and soon what they discover about Faina will change everything.


10. One Hundred Years of Solitude


You could not compile a list of magic realism essentials and leave out One Hundred Years of Solitude, the novel that basically shaped the genre.

Following the Buenida family in the mythical village of Macondo over many generations, this nobel prize winner is a story that can't be missed. 


GETTING STARTED WITH MAGIC REALISM // Magic realism has long been one of my favourite genres, drawing me in even before I had heard the term 'magic realism'. Sometimes called 'magical realism', 'marvelous realism', or 'fabulism' (so says Wikipedia. I've never actually heard anyone say 'marvelous realism' ever), magic realism is the most delightful meeting of the normal and the fantastic, usually in a way that has you wondering what bits are mundane and ordinary and which aren't.